Embracing the Heartbreak of the Advent Season

GodotFerguson, Eric Garner, CIA torture reports, Bill Cosby: I can’t get away from terrible, heartbreaking news. But more than that, I’m dismayed by the fractured, combative nature in the dialog surrounding these issues.

I had a friend recently say that she was withdrawing from Facebook through the Christmas season because she just couldn’t take it. She wasn’t going to let the constant vitriol ruin her Christmas spirit.

I totally understood her point, but was instantly convinced that there wasn’t a more appropriate time of year for the societal wheels to be coming off. In many ways, I’m convinced that Advent season is closer in spirit to Lent than it is the season of joy we struggle to manufacture every year.

The first Noel

Israel was oppressed and splintered when a confused teenage girl gave birth to our savior in a filthy stable. The 99% scraped to get by, moralistic religionists denied goodwill and favor to undesirables, and the government was not above resorting to unimaginable violence when the situation called for it.

And despite the fact that the heavens seemed impregnable and silent, there was hope—hope of deliverance, hope of reconciliation, hope in a reversal of power and fortune.

But it was the hope of the occupied, the despondent, the . . . hopeless.

Jesus’ birth didn’t change everything, or at least not in the way they were expecting, and not immediately. In fact, we’re still waiting for the reconciliation of all things. We’re still waiting for transformation. We’re still waiting for a deliverer. We’re still waiting for salvation.

Waiting for Godot

Advent is the season of preparation and longing for Christ’s nativity.

We’re still waiting for a deliverer.

When the incarnation revealed itself to the people who longed for a messiah, it was in a guise they wouldn’t recognize. It was a kingdom that came in vulnerability instead of power, sacrifice instead of entitlement, peace instead of a sword.

After Jesus’ death, despite rumors of a resurrection, he still left the Jews an occupied people. Their temple, the central identifier of them as people of God, was still destroyed.

But in the church, God planted the ember of his Spirit with the intention that it would erupt into a fire and spread . . . carrying with it the character and sacrificial nature of Christ. And in the cross (both the one on which Christ was crucified and the one the church is to carry), Christ displayed the character—and the foolishness—of God.

Advent is still a time of hope and longing. We’re still waiting for God to reveal himself. We’re still waiting for the church to collectively eschew the temptations of power and coercion in order to sacrificially serve the least of these. We’re still waiting for age-old injustices like racism, poverty, exploitation, and torture to cease (or for the people of God to publicly and privately condemn and combat them.)

We are still waiting.

The wrong will fail, the right prevail

I don’t want to hide from the rage, distrust, and fragmentation bubbling up in the culture. I want to face and incorporate it into this holy Advent season. I want to prayerfully consider how I contribute. I want to grieve. I want to hope.

When Christ came to us, he came as a vulnerable infant. I ache for Christ to fill his church and make it just as vulnerable and reliant.  I believe that the weakness and foolishness of God is greater than the cunning and authority of man. I long for the church to embrace the former and reject the latter.

Advent isn’t passive; it’s active. Christmas isn’t about looking back to some idealized experience in the past where God revealed himself, angels sang, and wise men worshiped. Christmas is about more than the embodiment of deity. It is the revelation of God’s plan to redeem all things to himself.

We are to be in employed in that work. We are to be instruments to reconciliation, peace, and justice. Because we’re often not (and incapable on our own), I feel we have a responsibility to look at the disharmony and hatred around us and let it break our hearts until our whole life becomes a season of advent . . .

And we find ourselves impatiently waiting for God to reveal himself.

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